samedi 1 novembre 2014

Philippe Presti, coach of Oracle Team USA, talks to VSail.info Posted on 03 May 2014 by Valencia Sailing

It is clearly evident that mastering the art of foiling will be a key in the America’s Cup, at least for the foreseeable future. Who better to talk about foiling yachts, of all types and sizes, than the French coach of the America’s Cup Defender, Oracle Team USA:
VSail.info: You have been foiling a lot lately and a few days ago you took your maiden sail on a Moth. How was the experience?
Philippe Presti: It was good fun. It was just my first try and it was very interesting. It’s a very small boat but I have already ordered one, in order to learn and figure out how to set it up and rig it. It’s very complex and if you don’t fine tune the foiling and the angles you aren’t going to make it. I went to the training camp with the Swiss team and we had a great training session.
VSail.info: You have been busy trialing the Flying Phantom, the 18-ft foiling catamaran. What’s your feeling?
Philippe Presti: It was my very first test and I found the boat very good, very-well finished and very stable. It was a very good feeling after coming from the big multihulls with all the hydro problems, moving the pitch and all the forces. All of a sudden you are on a small boat and everything works fine, you just move a little your body weight and the boat is stable and flying. It was a great feeling. I believe the Flying Phantom has a good future because it’s easy and not that expensive. It’s extremely easy to trim and I think last week they had a young kid sailing. I watched the video and it was very cool.
VSail.info: You then scaled up a bit and tried the GC32 as well. How do the two boats compare?
Philippe Presti: Actually, the GC32 is indeed a scale up. I had a chat with Martin Fisher who designed the two boats and they are both very similar, with the exception, of course, that the GC32 is bigger and heavier. You need more load and more crew and you can’t move your body weight as much as with the Flying Phantom. The system also needs to be very accurate in order to pitch the boat better. However, for that size of boat they are a great tool, no question about it. I’m sure that within a couple of weeks they will solve the small problems they had with friction in the systems and the boats will be just fine.
A friend of mine, Flavio Marazzi, the Star sailor from Switzerland, sailed the boat the week before I did and I think it’s a great boat for an owner because it’s forgiving. When I was there, there was a very good Laser sailor that had never sailed on a catamaran. He was nervous about foiling but after ten minutes he was very comfortable and the boat was sailing just fine.
VSail.info: Is foiling the future in sailing?
Philippe Presti: It’s my future, at least. You know, I have been in this business for many years and when something like that occurs, it’s like changing sports. You, more or less, have the same skills but the system is so different that you have to learn something completely new. It’s a great experience and it’s also good for myself. The boats are quick and there is no question, you have another dimension. You have to think differently.
VSail.info: You stated that Oracle Team USA has bought two Flying Phantoms for training and testing purposes. Since you already have at least one foiling AC45 why don’t you use that boat? Why do you need to acquire two smaller boats?
Philippe Presti: As soon as the Protocol is made public we will certainly develop our big foiling tools but with these small flying catamarans it’s like going out with your mountain bike. You take your friend and within half an hour you are out on the water foiling. In addition, you have a physical sensation of foiling. You know, even the AC45 is a big boat. In order to move the pitch of the boat, you need energy. There are big loads and the boat is critical because it’s quick. You can’t move your body weight and if you set it up wrong, you need to adjust the pitch. In the Flying Phantom, you move your body weight half a meter and you immediately feel what angle you need on the foil. It is a great advantage. At the beginning of the training session we were at the back of the boat and at the end we were all the way forward.
For the sailors as well, it’s an excellent tool. It’s excellent for the helmsman to drive a small boat but, more importantly, the trimmers, the grinders or the designers can have a feeling of foiling at the helm of the boat. When you design the big boat, you have a mental idea of what the loads should be and all of a sudden, when you go sailing on such a small boat, you really feel it.
VSail.info: So, it will not be solely Jimmy Spithill who will drive those boats. Will everybody take a turn helming it?
Philippe Presti: Yes, that would be my suggestion. The hard part though is to find the crew for the Phantom. That’s the toughest job onboard.
VSail.info: You said that going from monohulls to foiling catamarans is like changing sport. How different is the job of a coach in each case?
Philippe Presti: [Laughs] You need to change your chase boat because the foiling catamarans go so fast it’s difficult to follow them! Seriously, first of all, you enter an area that is kind of an unknown. In the past, the coach used to be the person that would show the way to do things, the tricks, because he knew them. In this case, you are discovering them, together with the sailors, and for me that’s the most interesting thing. You aren’t providing information but you are finding a way to gather a lot of information and structure it, in order to make a step together. That’s a great challenge for me. It involves watching a lot of video, providing a lot of feedback, testing and interacting with all the people.
I’m not teaching people how to sail because the sailors might be better than me. We are learning together and it’s extremely exciting to go through, process and debrief all the sailing action.

Philippe Presti trying the Flying Phantom. Photo copyright Pierrick Contin
VSail.info: On your team’s website, Tom Slingsby states that Oracle Team USA will have a second AC45 training session in Sydney next week. Does that mean your team training in the near future will alternate between the small foiling catamarans and the AC45?
Philippe Presti: We still haven’t received the two Flying Phantoms. They still are in construction and they will be delivered in June. The plan is to have a foiling week in July and inside the team we took the decision we should, individually, buy Moths, so we have about seven or eight of them.
On the other hand, the AC45 is bigger scale and we have to train on it for next year. In addition, we want to test new sailors and I think this is a very good platform to do it. The other point is the wing of the AC45. The three big elements of this America’s Cup are the multihulls, the wing and foiling. We have to combine all three of them and try to learn in each area. Right now, the AC45 is the perfect tool to learn how to work with the wing and rotate people on these boats.
VSail.info: Tom Slingsby and Kyle Langford will also take part in the first GC32 event of the year in Austria. Is this part of a plan to have an Oracle Team USA entry in the circuit?
Philippe Presti: At the moment, we are trying to have our crew racing in good programs such as the Extreme 40’s, the TP52’s, the Moth. We try to spread people around and we haven’t decided to have a full team in the GC32’s or another circuit. I went to test the boat and give the team my feedback because I believe that, on an individual basis, we should be there. This is a special year because we are able to learn things, outside the box, not inside a structured team. We have to learn and discover new things. For example, I started kiting myself just last week with the aim to foil, at some stage. We have time but we aren’t lazy, we are trying to think outside the box and push in every direction.
VSail.info: Does it mean you don’t see a benefit in having a full team in an established multihull circuit such as, let’s say, the Extreme Sailing Series, the way Emirates Team New Zealand does?
Philippe Presti: That’s not our strategy right now. We might, eventually, change our strategy if we think it’s worth it but at the moment we don’t think so. We had four tough years and we thought it would be good to give people a small break. As I said before, we have to give people the chance to think outside the box and then when we regroup we will be fired up. The America’s Cup is a tough competition and you don’t want to burn all your energy too early.
VSail.info: You said you were trying new sailors, so I suppose your crew isn’t still final and this would be an ongoing process in the near future.
Philippe Presti: Exactly. There is a list of people we want to test and Tom Slingsby is charge of that. New faces will, eventually, show up and I think it’s good to have new blood inside the team.
VSail.info: In what regards the future America’s Cup boat, Russell Coutts pointed out it would be a foiling catamaran, between 60 and 65ft with a crew of approximately eight sailors. To what extent will that change your own job and the entire strategy, compared to the AC72? Does a smaller boat with less crew make much difference?
Philippe Presti: You know, a boat that is ten feet shorter will still not be that small. I don’t think it will change much. I’m not involved in the Protocol and I don’t want to be involved! However, what will make a change is whether we have one or two boats. That will make a big difference as well as when we can start training and when we can, effectively, start sailing the new boat. These factors will make a bigger change in our program. Having said that, I think the new boats will be pretty similar in performance and whether we are 11 or 8 onboard will not make a big difference.
We will still have a nice problem to solve, that is how to win again the America’s Cup, and we will try to solve it the best way. As I said, the biggest impact on our program will be the “how many” and “when”. How many boats we will be allowed to have and when we will have them.

VSail.info: Going back to the impact of foiling in the sport of sailing, would you rather race a TP52 or an AC45?
Philippe Presti: Every boat is interesting to sail. For example, next week, I will sail a Dragon. This is precisely the beauty and richness of our sport. When you change boat, you face new people and all of them are competitive. I used to sail the Finn, the Soiling, the Star and all of them are slow boats. I then started getting involved with multihulls and I discovered new things. I needed to work on different areas and at my age I’m not aiming at the top any longer but any time I sail on a boat, I try to understand what will make the difference and how I can pass on this information to the sailors or the people that are interested in it. I love sailing TP52’s. I helmed and trimmed TP52’s for a while and I think it’s a great boat. It’s just different.
VSail.info: It’s never too late to learn something new.
Philippe Presti: Absolutely, and it’s very exciting. I have friends that have been sailing the same boats for so many years and still enjoy it. I like that and I respect it but what fires me up is discovering something new and different, gathering all the information I can. It’s like a renewal. I will certainly not be as good as someone that has been sailing a Star every day for 20 years but I will develop new skills and for my job this is beneficial.
VSail.info: With the end target being for Oracle Team USA to retain the America’s Cup.

Philippe Presti: Of course, that’s the goal and in order to achieve it you need to improve in all aspects, not just in the sports side. The path towards the target is as important as the target itself. The target serves as your benchmark, it helps you see how you are positioned. All these elements are great because in the America’s Cup you are involved with the top of the top in terms of technology, in terms of sailing and in terms of people and that’s what inspires me.

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